By National Yemen Staff
Pakistani and Chinese companies’ representatives left Yemen a few days ago after arriving to explore investment opportunities such as infrastructure, refineries, power plants and more. The following is an interview with Mr. Tauqir Sultan Awan, Chairman of Hajvairy Group. Awan visited Yemen with Managing Director of Usmani Association for Engineers and Contractors Ahmed Ghazal Usmani; the General Manager of SINOHYDRO Chinese Engineering Co. Han Dong; and Gulf Group of Companies Chairman Syed Ahmed.
Q: How long have you been here and what types of projects are you interested in pursuing in Yemen?
We have been here the past two days. We’ve had the honor of meeting with Yemeni officials, including the Minister of Public Works and Roads Omer al-Karshimi and his deputies, as well as Sana’a Mayor Abdulkader Ali Halal. We had an open dialogue with government and private sector officials to determine the structure of the public-private partnership projects slated for the next 10 years. We are very keen on the Medical City Project proposed by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Like any other international company, we came to participate and we will try to be as competitive as possible.
Q: Is the purpose of your visit to secur the Medical City Project?
The purpose of the visit is to determine the country’s needs and how we can be of assistance. I am the chairman of my group. Both companies here are part of the top 10 construction companies in Pakistan. We have had no limits for the past 14 years. We brought with us a Chinese partner; this is a strategic partnership because both Pakistan and Yemen share a mutual friendship with China.
Over the past years, we’ve had a successful partnership with SINOHYDRO and we want to recreate this successful project, this time in Yemen. Coming together collectively – bringing partners on board, allows us to get a real look at what’s happening on the ground, to see what is locally possible and what we need to plan for internationally, such as equipment, human resources and construction companies. We need to evaluate how we can put all this together in the most efficient and cost effective manner.
Yemen has a lot of donors who have strict standards of selection, quality control and safety. We must meet those standards and put ourselves in a position to participate in any one of the mega projects. Yemen will have a road project which will connect Yemen to Saudi Arabia. More tender will be coming to Yemen in the following few months.
Q: How would you prioritize your projects in Yemen?
Our priorities are in the health sector, to build hospitals and, of course, the Medical City Project. We are also very keen on the education sector, where we have strong experience, and hope to build universities.
Q: How competitive are your companies compared with other international companies who will compete for King Abdullah’s Medical City Project?
The art of transparency is the only thing you can do during competitive bidding. I feel very positive that we stand a very good chance because Pakistan has a skilled and non-skilled workforce that has been working on projects in the Middle East for the past 40 years, including a good number of engineers who’ve completed many projects in Yemen. Our overhead compared to the competition is going to be lower, and this is an advantage. The second advantage is that we are partnering with organizations that have strong financial track records. This is very positive and necessary to avoid funding issues and pay delays so that the project is completed on time. No one can say with any certainty or guarantee that they will win a contract, all we can do is put our best efforts out there and trust in ourselves and our three partners, as well as our strong presence and history in the Middle East.
We understand our competitors and we understand the complexity of Europeans who come here to work. We understand some areas in Yemen are like Pakistan and unfortunately require extra security precautions. We have solid record in this regard – no problems. This is the reason we are coming to Yemen. Things are changing and we want to make a difference.
Q: What are your company’s criteria for doing business with local partners? Have you chosen any local partners yet?
We only landed two days ago and have already been stormed with a number of meetings, trying to understand local companies’ working standards. Our selection for local companies is going to be based on a number of issues. We may select one company for the medical projects and another for construction projects, depending on the experience they have had, whether skilled or non-skilled.
Concerning local companies, we are honored to sit down with future partner, Sheikh Jalaidan, and other companies to try to understand their local perspective and how we can build a partnership.
Q: How much do you think the three partnered companies could invest in Yemen?
Well, we are looking projects that cost billions of dollars, so when you talk about the large projects for example, the first phase of the King Abdullah Medical City Project alone will cost USD 380 million. The bidding costs will require those participating to spend tens of millions of dollars.
Once we start physical work on a project, we will bring tens of millions of dollars worth of equipment and supplies, such as concrete, asphalt and whatever else is required for that particular project. Some of that investment will be local, some will be international.
Q: How did you find out about the King Abdullah Medical City Project in Yemen?
We found out through our ambassador, who sends information back to Pakistan, and also through the Ministry of Planning website, which makes access to information very easy.
Most of the data was available on the internet. Based on that information, we were able to identify all the donors and the type of financial assistance the donors were providing, as well as the amount of aid that has physically made its way to the country. Like I told the ambassador, without his help a lot of these companies would not be here.
Q: When do you anticipate this project will develop from talk to reality?
Very soon. This morning we have an open dialogue with the project director, Hamaza al-Ashawal. As soon as new international tender is announced from the Yemeni side, we will be the first to approach them. We will do an evaluation of the bid and make a decision with all of our partners.
At the end of the day, may the best man win. Based on what we have seen from the World Bank and GIZ, despite our limited dealings thus far, we know that there are high standards for participation and this encourages us that only serious people will be participating in the bid.
Q: If you do not win any of the project contracts we’ve discussed, how will you redirect your plans in Yemen?
Whenever you come to another country, you are not looking for one or two projects. Your goals and strategies are built around long term projects. We are looking at the next 15-20 years worth of construction needs for Yemen, so one or two projects falling through are not going to stop our excitement or bring down our morale. We will keep going. This is where cooperation will begin.
Q: What would be the standards for local contractor partnerships?
We have not finalized anything yet. Like I side, there are two goals. One is building and enhancing the capacity of local Yemeni contractors and the other is making sure that we complete the project on time.
Q: When considering new projects in Yemen, are you planning on the connections made by your local partners, or do you secure these projects by being professionals?
Let me tell you of our experiences so far. You cannot compromise hard work and professionalism. This happens when your organization does not have the right kind of technical capabilities to carry out a project. We do not err on that side. Please keep in mind that when we come here, we come as ambassadors of our country. Yes, we respect and value our future local partners’ relations. We will listen to their technical and operational advice and guidance, and this will be based on a foundation of partnership, based on professionalism and understanding the Yemeni culture. Will we use our partners to improve our efforts in this regard.
Q: We have not heard much about Pakistani companies, you are not so well known here. How are you going to market your business within a competitive market?
We are a familiar presence in the Middle East. Many projects are carried out by skilled and un-skilled Pakistani workers and Pakistani management teams. There are hundreds of thousands of Pakistani workers throughout the Middle East. You will find large Pakistani communities, but you will not find large Pakistani companies. This is what we want to change.
We are in a position to invest in the right market. With the two countries’ (China and Pakistan) investment it should be a win-win situation for any corporate organization. It is mutually beneficial for the relationship because we bring our money here and we are looking after our investment, we want to get something out of it.
Q: Does your mission and vision meet with Yemen’s standards?
We’ve been here for two days, this is more of an exploratory trip. We are extremely encouraged by the professional young people here who have studied in countries around in the world. The geopolitical concerns and the new concept of capitalism are dying. You have a 2500 km coast line, how many other countries have this advantage?
You (Yemen) should learn from the best technical experts that we are bringing, and in the next five years the country could build up its technical expertise and you will not require more companies from other countries to come build Yemen.